Good eavesdropping at the gym: One of the most regular regulars, a compact thirty-something woman who is always to be seen huffing away on either a gerbil stepper or a treadmill, for what usually seems to be a good hour at a time, was talking to another regular, the slight, white-haired man who is always on the next machine over. She was standing by his stepper talking as I worked away at the ab-crunch machine, a machine that somehow always makes me feel vain and foolish when I am using it.

“Fifty years, and you should have heard the judge tear into him.” Here she adopted an affected imitating-someone tone. “I hear voices, I never got treatment.” She shifted into a stern, judgelike voice. “Well, why did two psychiatrists find you fit to stand trial? And did you ever ask for treatment?” She shook her head and smiled sheepishly. “I tell you, I slept easier last night.”

“Was that a plea?” asked the white-haired man, referring to the fifty-year sentence.

“Are you kidding?” said the woman. “On the false imprisonment alone he could have gotten life.”

At the time, I thought that perhaps this woman was a prosecutor or some other court or law-enforcement officer, just talking about another day at the office. But then a little research discovered that she was probably talking about the sentencing of “one-man crime wave Keith Ray,” who plagued the northern part of the city last summer, bursting into houses and taking people at gunpoint to ATMs. I remember reading that, in one incident, he took four or so women to an ATM in the pouring rain and made three of them sit on the curb while the fourth made a withdrawal. In the dark and rain, no passersby noticed anything amiss, even while he kept a pistol trained on the sitting women. I wonder if the woman who was telling the story was one of the victims? I also recall that, on what turned out to be that very night, I grew paranoid about the news of this crime wave – remember, it was not only a dark and stormy night, but I was living alone that summer while A. was off at her first season of Bird Camp – and armed myself while sitting watching television with the lights off and the rain and thunder harmonizing outside. (Though this “arming” was only with a walking stick I once purchased in the Dominican Republic, I figured that – since I was mentally prepared to spring up and greet someone bursting in the door, having even sussed out and rehearsed the swinging motion that would allow me the most powerful blow while avoiding various obstacles in the cramped entrance hallway – I would have the upper hand. Yes, I’m that paranoid. No, there’s no treatment for it. Yes, screw that “positive thinking” BS. I’ll take a weapon and a plan any day, thank you very much.)

I note that the article about the sentencing tells of victims and neighborhood residents teaming up to work with the prosecutors to ensure a lengthy sentence (not always a given in this city), so the woman I overhead could have been involved in the case in this capacity, although she certainly talked about it like she’d had a personal stake.

The article does not mention when Mr. Ray will be eligible for parole, nor does it say that he will not be. I guess it can be said that at least he didn’t kill anyone, although I’m of the opinion that using a loaded weapon in the commission of a robbery should expose you to the same penalties as first-degree murder, as you’ve clearly (1) planned ahead and (2) accepted at least the possibility that you’re going to put some blood and hair on the walls, so why shouldn’t you also have to accept that you might be looking at life or something similarly steep if caught?

At lunch I walked to Safeway again. Just outside the rowhouse where I work, two plainclothes BCPD officers with cool-kid hair and sunglasses and navy t-shirts that screamed “POLICE” in huge letters on the back were helping two young men out of a stopped car, frisking them, and seating them on the curb. “Do you have ID?” I heard as I passed. I normally jaywalk across right there but didn’t feel it prudent to pick my way through what might have been about to turn into an arrest, so I walked to the corner. But when I turned south to cross there, I saw the opposite side of the street blocked by maintenance vehicles and a crew spelunking down into a manhole. I had just reached a good jaywalking spot approximately in the middle of the next block when I heard a loud thump behind me and turned just in time to see a police car and a massive pickup truck rocking in the aftermath of their collision. Apparently they had both tried to occupy the same coordinates on the space-time continuum as they impatiently squeezed through the bottleneck caused by the traffic stop I described first. As the truck rolled through the intersection and over to the curb, you could see in the occupants’ faces how delighted they were that they were about to find out what happens when you crash into a police car.

In the Safeway I found a short checkout line in which to purchase my sandwich but had to wait, money in hand, while my cashier and the next one over negotiated a complicated transaction involving obtaining and wolfing down one chicken wing each from a little plastic takeout container they were passing back and forth across the checkout lane. (Don’t they get lunch breaks?) A third cashier yelled down at them: “Don’t you eat all of my food!”

I stopped at a locksmith’s for a copy of my house key. This way I don’t have to keep moving my key back and forth from my key ring to the ball-link chain I wear when I run or go to the gym. I’m amazed I haven’t forgotten to put it back on my key ring yet and locked myself out of the house, although at least I’m in the pretty consistent habit of locking the door from the outside with a key instead of locking the knob inside and pulling it closed behind me, so I guess that’s what’s saved me so far. (Yeah, that’s right, Fate. I just tempted you. What are you going to do about it?)

On the way back to the office, I passed the pickup truck’s occupants, sitting disconsolately on a shady front stoop near their truck while the cop whose car they’d struck strutted around in the street doing cop stuff. As I walked by, another police car pulled in behind that one, but the original arrest/traffic stop/or maybe just plain “humble” [FN 1] that had started the whole mess was apparently over and there was no sign that it had ever happened. I wonder if, by chance, the guys in the pickup truck had been found to be up to no good, themselves, just because they were unlucky enough to have a little fender bender with a cop. Open containers? Savory cloud as they stepped from the vehicle? They weren’t in cuffs, though, so maybe they were just waiting for a shift sergeant or something like that.

On my way to meet and formally sign on with Darlene, our new property manager, I saw a little black and yellow bird smashed flat as a pancake in the middle of the sidewalk.

The movers’ estimate arrived via email in the late afternoon. Through them, the move will apparently cost about as much as a nice used Buick. I promptly called Starving Students to arrange for a comparison estimate, which a bored, barely-interested call-center operator gave me over the phone after I simply described the house. It was a lot cheaper, but then I logged on to and discovered that Starving Students has about the worst reputation out there; the discussion boards even specifically mentioned how bad the Baltimore office is. Apparently moving in general is a particularly risky venture: big, “reputable” companies are often franchises that, in turn, use contractors rather than official staff members. Near move day, they bid out your move. If none of the contractors likes the margins, no one shows up. Or the contractor saves money and hires crackheads who drop (no incentive to give your people breaks if you’re working for a “fixed final fee,” after all, so they will get tired) and/or steal your stuff, or they send fewer people than promised and it takes forever to load the truck.

Another option is to pack everything yourself and then have a local company load it into a freight company’s truck. endorses a freight company called ABF that serves this niche [FN 2], and it turns out that a local mover I called back in March actually suggested this scenario and mentioned that they’ve done this with ABF before, so maybe we’ll go that route. But that means we’ll be packing our TV and pictures and dishes ourselves, with no recourse except to our own wallets if they break.

I wish we were already moved.



FN 1: I couldn’t find a good web page to link to that would enable you to efficiently find the definition of “a humble,” so I’ll define it here. Around these parts, when police arrest or even just hassle you for no good reason – such as because you’ve “disrespected” them or they can’t get you on anything else but just want to remind you of their copness, it’s called being “arrested on a humble,” or just a “humble,” as in, “there weren’t even any charges, it was just a humble.” I don’t know if it’s only Baltimore specific, but this is the only place I’ve ever heard the term, and, by the way, it happens here a lot.

FN 2: It should be pointed out that makes a referral fee from ABF, but at least they admit this right up front.